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Author Topic: Praising His Name, or Taking It In Vain?
KarlEd
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Nearly every weekday morning I get up before dawn and drive to work. I drive about 32 miles along a pleasant 2-lane highway that runs through farmland and through two small towns. Leaving the first town as I crest a hill I can see across a small valley to the top of the next hill. On that hill there is a church. On the roof of that church, spelled out in Christmas lights, is a single word. "JESUS". I first noticed this last fall shortly after I had moved to PA, and thought it was just an early form of Christmas decoration, but here it is the middle of May and it is still there.

Already a little cynical about passive and partisan patriotism the war with Iraq has brought out, I met my first encounter with this display with what probably amounted to a small mental rolling of the eyes. As time has gone on, and I see this display nearly every day -in what must be 20 foot letters- it has come to be, for me, the psychic equivalent of a pothole on my road to work. I've entertained little fantasies about "fixing" it with a pair of wire cutters, or adding a couple of strings of lights to make it say "Jebus" and see how long before someone noticed, or perhaps renting the barn across the highway, but on the same hill and putting up a word of my own. "Satan" would give a nice "Yin/Yang" quality to the message. Or I could be facetious and put up "Wuz Here". But lately I've just been wondering about my own reaction to it and why I care at all.

Seeing it so often for over 8 months, I've had ample opportunity to ponder why it bothers me so. I'm still not sure. Maybe it's because it seems so pointlessly in-your-face. It's like someone passes you in the mall and screams "JESUS" in your ear. My first impulse would be to turn around and yell "FRANK" in theirs just as loudly.

It makes me wonder what the point is. Why the big "JESUS"? It's a church for heaven's sake. Is it afraid people won't know whose? Without the blazing sign am I likely to assume they worship Molech? Is it a secret message or a public one? If public, what is it saying, exactly? Do they feel the culture is so saturated with the message they can fall back on shorthand now? Are they tapping us all on the shoulder as we drive by saying "be a good boy today"? Or is it meant for the non-Christians as a polite reminder that we're going to hell? I honestly don't know the motivation. Maybe that's why it bugs me. I want to react but it's such an ambiguous proclamation any way I react seems presumptuous. Is it meant to be that insidious? Is there a real point to it at all?

I drove most of the way home yesterday behind a minivan and it had no less than three "Jesus" fish on the back, all different. It also had a bumper sticker that said "Know Jesus, Know Peace. No Jesus, No Peace." which I find annoying for entirely different reasons. But I made a mental connection with the fish and the light display. I understand the desire to put a "Jesus Fish" on one's car. It's probably the same reason I have a little rainbow colored squiggle on mine. It's a show of solidarity and a quiet expression of one's worldview. But a whole school of them and the bumper sticker on the same surface? At what point does it become trite and therefore "in vain"?

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Scott R
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>> But a whole school of them and the bumper sticker on the same surface?

Two big fish for mom and dad, one little fish for each kid. . .

Probably.

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Jenny Gardener
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You're right, KarlEd, we absolutely MUST do lunch sometime. Or have a slumber party. Or a garden party. Or SOMETHING!!
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Olivetta
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Well, I like the "Jebus" idea. [Wink]

I know what you mean, though. I used to be very devout, but even then the religiious 'buzzword' type of things annoyed me a little.

My college Chaplan had a thing on his door that said "Aslan is on the move". I thought it was neat, but Ron scoffed, "Why doesn't it say 'Ethan Frome is on the move'? That would make as much sense."

(I still think the Aslan is on the Move sticker is pretty cool, but that's beside the point.)

Now, though, things that loud and obnoxious annoy me much more. Bilboards that presume to speak for God, and so forth. I start thinking up my own (Don't make me come down there! - God). I enjoy seeing the many sarcastic variations on WWJD, though I was a big fan of the In His Steps book. I think the idea of identifying with archtypes is a good thing, generally, but it's also a little presummptive to assume you reall y know what anyone would do in any situation.

The possibilities are endless. One of my favorites was a LiveJournal Icon that said "What Would Curt Do?" with a picture of Ewan McGregor as the unbalanced and wounded heroin addict/musician Curt Wild in Velvet Goldmine. Obviously, the thing about his character was that he was unpredictable, which just made it funnier to me.

Anyway, strident exhibitions of any sentiment make me want to rebel. I think it's just my nature.

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katharina
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quote:
"Why doesn't it say 'Ethan Frome is on the move'? That would make as much sense."
Because "Aslan is on the move" is a line from the books, right? It was a quote - like signatures on other forums.

I don't like ostentatious displays, but I do think it was done with something that contains a smidgeon of good intentions, if that means anything.

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Olivetta
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Right. I knew that, and he knew that. He just thought it was silly to make some sort of statement with a fictional character. Since fictional characters are fictional, and not really, you know, GOD.

I argued the same way you just did, kat. He just found it silly to use as a religious catch-phrase. I thought it was fine. I think he might have thought it was fine, too, if he hadn't disliked the chaplan so much. The only thing I liked about the chaplan was The "Aslan is on the Move" plaque on his door.

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rivka
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quote:
I start thinking up my own (Don't make me come down there! - God).
Olivet, You're not the only one.

Actually, I'm fairly certain I saw it as a full-size billboard somewhere.

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katharina
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*considers* Maybe the statement he was making was not the statement Ron thought he was making. In other words, maybe the chaplain was a Narnia fan as well as being a chaplain, and the possible layers of meaning amused and pleased him, but wasn't the primary motivation.
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BannaOj
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I believe the "Don't make me come down there --God" exists somewhere in Missouri. I'm pretty sure I've seen it somewhere in my highway travels.

AJ

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rivka
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I haven't been in Missouri lately. Well, ever, actually. So I must have seen it somewhere else.
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twinky
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Every time I take the bus to the grocery store I see a number of irritating Jesus-related signs. The most offensive is "Prepare to Meet they God." I'd post what it makes me think but it would be a flagrant violation of the PG.
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DemonGarik
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Some people just take their religion too seriously, I come from an area that has probably the weirdest balance of religion and secularism, and you'll see Darwin Fish on one car and Jesus bumper sticker's plastering the one next to it.
I know how you feel about the constant presence though. There is this building on my way to work in Minneapolis that has a giant painted Jesus on the wall, we're talking like 5 story Jesus.
Whenever I'm giving directions, its always easier to tell people to go away or towards the giant jesus, everyone knows what I'm refering too. It always has seemed gratuitous to me, while faith can be shared, some churches and groups like to shove faith in your face, and I think at the point where they are painting the picture, lighting up the sign, or putting on the bumper sticker either to brag or inform everyone clearly that they are a christian, they are crossing the line from understanding the importance of faith to trying to be part of a popular clique.
This in my opinion is the vain level.

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TomDavidson
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"Whenever I'm giving directions, its always easier to tell people to go away or towards the giant jesus..."

This is funny on so many levels.

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Sopwith
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Ahhh, freedom of speech. Isn't it grand?

One person may be offended by a bumper sticker saying WWJD, another by a Thug Life medallion, another offended by a T-shirt that reads "My abortion tickled."

Everyone gets to get their message across however they want to and we all also get the opportunity to be offended and huffy.

Why don't we all just nod at the messages, smile and let the ones we don't care for just fade away into the background like the cultural noise they all become after a while?

But to answer the question of the thread title: Who knows their exact reasoning? [Dont Know] I'd assume it was done in praise and as a very gentle method of speaking to the masses. They aren't preaching and shouting at you from the street corner. They aren't cluttering up the airwaves. They just put one word on a church roof.

What you feel from that word, well, it's really up to you, isn't it?

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advice for robots
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KarlEd, if I ever pass you in the mall I'm going to yell "JESUS" at you just to see if you remember to yell "FRANK!" :)
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TomDavidson
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"I'd assume it was done in praise and as a very gentle method of speaking to the masses."

I suppose neon is gentler than some of the alternatives, like thousand-foot-high letters of fire. [Smile]

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katharina
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It certainly lasts longer, in my experience.
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Scott R
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kat-- you're not using the right fuel, then.
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Sopwith
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Actually Tom, from what Karl said, it was just Christmas lights. Probably stands out much less than the billboards for Crazy Eddie's Used Car Lot and the Strip-O-Rama that dot most roadways.

Why should one sign that may or may not apply to you bother you more than any other advertising along the roadside?

Is it the billboards and giant-lit signs for every truckstop, bank or Willie's Waffles and Wings along the roadside that bother you, or just the one that says "Jesus" on the roof of a church?

Why not be upset with all of them? I mean, don't they all want something from you?

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TomDavidson
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"Why not be upset with all of them? I mean, don't they all want something from you?"

This, by the way, is an excellent point. And while I can't speak for all agnostics or atheists, here, I think one of the reasons that advertisements for God feel more emotionally loaded by comparison is that there's an enormous societal pressure -- all signs aside -- to buy into that "product," one that just isn't there for, say, waffles. So it stands out, in the same way that a sign reading "Everyone worth knowing is driving a Volvo. Why aren't you?" would.

As has already been said on this thread, people sometimes wear their affiliations on their sleeves -- to bond, to recognize others in their pack, and to advertise that their pack exists. And when your pack doesn't advertise, it can get a little lonely.

But, yeah, I try to remember that to the people who're marketing Jesus, He's apparently no more important than waffles -- and that any extra reverence I attach to the possible existence of a loving God is my reaction, and not one they necessarily share.

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Sopwith
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But Tom, if you look at it from the other side, the "opposing" pack advertises a lot, too.

From the Darwin fish on the backs of cars to the billboard for the "gentlemen's" club, to them, that is advertising or group recognition for those in opposition.

Sure, the casual agnostic isn't on the same team as the street corner crack dealer, but then again, the average Christian isn't on the exact same team as the local book burner.

It is awfully easy to read a lot more into any one message than was ever intended, especially when it is tinted by the particular shade of glasses we choose individually to wear.

Where one person sees a sign that warns them of damnation to Hell, another may just see that bit of reassurance they need to make it through the day. Where one person sees an advertisement for a den of iniquity, another may see a nice place to go and have a couple of drinks.

It's the trick of free speech. What you wish to say becomes everyone's business, but how you interpret what is said, well, that's really your business and your business alone.

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TomDavidson
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quote:

But Tom, if you look at it from the other side, the "opposing" pack advertises a lot, too.

From the Darwin fish on the backs of cars to the billboard for the "gentlemen's" club, to them, that is advertising or group recognition for those in opposition.

I'm willing to concede this, as long as you grant that a) most forms of atheist self-recognition, like the Darwin fish example, are specifically reactions to (more popular) existing Christian forms of self-identification; and b) in order to imagine that the "opposing" side is advertising as much as Christians, you have to lump in every advert for things that Christians would find sinful, even if Christians took out the ads in the first place.

But I think this exchange is a solid argument for the claim that most such forms of self-identification are in fact designed to provoke people who do not already belong to the groups in question, even if that's a subconscious motivation. It's all very "in your face, space coyote!"

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dkw
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I would like to have a Darwin fish and a Jesus fish on my car. If I could get them facing each other so it looked like they were smooching, that would be even better.

I detest the idea that Christian = opposed to science. And I think the little feet on the Darwin fish are cute.

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ludosti
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Dana - I love it!! Years ago, I had one of the fish labeled TRUTH eating a Darwin fish on my car. I loved it because, as I see it, the TRUTH I find in Jesus encompasses all forms of truth, including Darwin's ideas. [Smile]
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Sopwith
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Oh, I'll happily grant both points, I don't disagree with you in the least.

I've always thought the Darwin fish were a wonderful tongue-in-cheek jab and that someone was remarkably creative in coming up with it.

And yes, it's amazing how many Christians make their livings in decidely non-Christian ways.

But it goes back to the original question about the word Jesus on the church roof. Was it, in effect, just a simple statement and anything else read into it was just the matter of the viewer?

I mean, a Darwin fish on a car doesn't mean the driver wants to destroy churches and religion in general does it? Does the word Jesus on the church roof really point an accusing finger at anyone?

Or is it just an ornament on a car and a statement of someone's faith we're talking about? Are we all just a little too easy to get worked up about the things we don't like or believe in?

Have we all become hypersensitive to the opinions of others and unable to differentiate between a statement and a personal attack?

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TomDavidson
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quote:

I had one of the fish labeled TRUTH eating a Darwin fish on my car. I loved it because, as I see it, the TRUTH I find in Jesus encompasses all forms of truth, including Darwin's ideas.

I think this is a solid argument for mandating that all bumper stickers come with explanatory subtitles.

-------

quote:

Have we all become hypersensitive to the opinions of others and unable to differentiate between a statement and a personal attack?

See, I dunno. I think most of those statements are personal attacks, but that we as a society have become more sensitive to personal attacks.
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BannaOj
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Dana, it's easy. Buy a darwin fish with legs, but without the word "darwin" inside Figure out which way its facing. Then buy a "standard" plain fish, one without a cross as its eye or "Jesus" inside. The outline of this fish will be reversible, there is nothing in the pattern that changes when you flip it upside down.

*goes link hunting*

AJ

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Sopwith
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And while we on the fish...

I love both the Christian and the Darwin fish, and I think the Truth one is a masterpiece of bumper art.

But, I also really like the schools of fish on the backs of cars, a big one for each parent and a small one for each child. It just seems to show a togetherness and a warm, comforting pride.

Let's face it, they are really nice, low key badges. And it's nice when things are toned down a bit in this world where yelling is the volume standard.

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BannaOj
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Here's a site that has an "empty" fish with legs. (It's got some amusing other ones bordering on the obscene too, and a Gefilte fish for rivka)
http://www.evolvefish.com/fish/emblems.html
Here are plain "christian" fish
http://www.planeticthus.com/icthus_auto_emblems.asp

AJ

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Taalcon
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In Brick, NJ there's this one church that I always used as a landmark - it had a very happy-looking brightly-lit yellow neon cross prominantly displayed.

I never knew the actual name of the church, but I promptly announced it as my favorite landmark, and from this day refer to it as The Church Of The Neon Cross.

And it still makes me giggle.

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katharina
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After 9/11, I put a small American flag sticker on my car. I was somewhat puzzled by my own desire to do this - I thought about it for three days. Ultimately, I put it on, and it's still there, although looking a little worse for wear. I did it because it meant something to me, the same way the ring from my mother and those earrings my dad bought me mean something to me.

It was not meant as a lesson to anyone, although I suppose it could be seen that way. It was also not done to conform, although I got the sticker from work and I suppose someone could think that. It wasn't to provoke anyone. It wasn't directed at the non-Americans - I don't see a lot. It wasn't done for other people.

I did it because the stories from New York were making me cry and I wanted to do something, but I couldn't, really. Not more than I had done. It's just a symbol, but seeing it on my car made me feel like I had done something on the outside about the change I felt on the inside.

I don't know any other person's motivations for whatever stickers they have on their cars, but it's possible it's not meant as a chastisement.

[ May 12, 2005, 12:48 PM: Message edited by: katharina ]

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Portabello
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quote:
I'm willing to concede this, as long as you grant that a) most forms of atheist self-recognition, like the Darwin fish example, are specifically reactions to (more popular) existing Christian forms of self-identification; and b) in order to imagine that the "opposing" side is advertising as much as Christians, you have to lump in every advert for things that Christians would find sinful, even if Christians took out the ads in the first place.

But I think this exchange is a solid argument for the claim that most such forms of self-identification are in fact designed to provoke people who do not already belong to the groups in question, even if that's a subconscious motivation. It's all very "in your face, space coyote!"

I think that it's only a solid argument that reactionary forms of self-identification (like the Darwin fish) are designed to provoke others. Nothing you said gave any support to the idea that the original (and more common) form of self-identification is supposed to provoke ant all.

People put crosses on their churches and around their necks back when there essentially weren't any people in society that didn't belong to the "Christian" group.

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mothertree
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Karl, I wonder if it also bothers you because of your Mormon upbringing. I know you don't hold with that still. What would be an analogy? I was raised to be very careful with money. I'm trying to get over it, but I still have this knee jerk reaction to ostentatious displays of wealth. I don't know if it's the same at all.

There was an interesting thread about Mormons and Jesus on the other side, somene suggesting that OSC write a fictional account of Jesus and him saying he didn't see himself doing that.

Oh well, I certainly don't think my religion is immune from enthusiasm that borders on the crass from time to time. I think I understand why on a gut level you might find it disturbing.

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dean
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Living where I do, I have to deal with all kinds of attitudes I find very repugnant, from the bumper sticker that said, "Abortion makes you the mother of a dead baby," to an acquaintance who says loudly and often that "gay marriage is just fine as long as both the chicks are hot."

I honestly believe that Christian advertising and assumptions are so omni-present and so not-looked-askance-at that virtually nothing an atheist could do or say could rival it. Constantly being told to pray for someone, for example. Being required to sell "Trust in Him" wristbands as part of my job or being written up, etc. My Darwin fish (if I had one) wouldn't even begin to rival the huge number of religious-based paraphanalia that I see every day, much less the un-aware things people say to me.

What about the bit in Matthew about not praying loudly like hypocrits do, but praying in secret?

I'm also reminded of this quote: "Most sermons sound to me like commercials - but I can't make out whether God is the Sponsor or the Product."
--Mignon McLaughlin

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KarlEd
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quote:
Have we all become hypersensitive to the opinions of others and unable to differentiate between a statement and a personal attack?
I don't think I'm being hypersensitive. I mean, I've looked at the thing for over half a year and I'm only now writing about it. And I don't even think I was ranting (well, not much [Wink] ).

As for the fish, I've never heard of the Mom/Dad/Kids each getting a fish thing before. In that respect it seems less overkill, I guess. Since I hadn't thought of it that way, it struck me at the time as "I'm a Christian. HEY! I'm a Christian. DID YOU HEAR ME? I'M A CHRISTIAN!!!)

I have no problem with the Jesus fish itself. Like I said, I have a little rainbow squiggle on my car and in my view it's about the same thing. I don't think I'm being "in-your-face" or exclusionary. While I do agree with the philosophy behind the Darwin fish, I don't really like them because they are reactionary and kind of "in your face". I put them in the same category I put the "(man figure)+(woman figure)=Marriage" bumper stickers.

As for the "JESUS" on the roof. I did write "Christmas lights", but it really is pretty big and noticeable. You can't miss it and it isn't the least bit subtle. I'm not sure neon would make it any less so.

quote:
Karl, I wonder if it also bothers you because of your Mormon upbringing.
mothertree, that's certainly a possibility. Maybe my gut reaction has something to do with that and my more rational examination of it is being filtered through my current worldview. I don't know.


Kat, I can sympathize with you about the flag thing. I went through similar self examination and decided not to get one largely because I didn't display one before and I feel that my patriotism is deeper than a fad or a reaction to tragedy. I went through a period right after the start of the Iraq mess determined not to display anything like that because I hated the (often explicitly stated) implication that people who didn't make the outward display weren't true patriots. I didn't want to be blackmailed into it and my brand of patriotism runs counter to those kinds of tactics.

Choosing not to display a flag, though, was not because it didn't "mean something to me," but rather was because the extreme right was fairly effectively co-opting shows of patriotism to mean "yes! I support everything Bush is doing and you're an infidel if you don't".

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Irami Osei-Frimpong
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quote:
I detest the idea that Christian = opposed to science.
The dichotomy is incoherent. There is a reason why science flourishes in western Christian countries. The fact that science, taken as far as it can, eventually undermines its religious foundation is just the nature of truth.

Setting science against Christianity is like setting the legal system against judaism.

[ May 12, 2005, 07:05 PM: Message edited by: Irami Osei-Frimpong ]

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Kayla
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KarlEd, have you considered calling the church and asking them what kind of light bulbs they are using? I mean, just out of curiosity. You could say you sell light bulbs and were wondering if they needed any. You should, because while you're at it, could you ask them how much they think it costs per month to illuminate it? Doesn't that seem wasteful? I mean, are they using the right light bulbs to maximize their message/money while still taking into account the non-renewable resources they are using to do so?

You know, they could have a sign made that runs off one light bulb. Fiber optics are amazing.

When I first started reading this, my immediate thought was that they were waiting for the second coming and for some reason, thought he'd be coming in a UFO. It's like their SOS burning logs on the beach.

I agree with everything you've said though.

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Kayla
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Holy cow. That forum glitch went away quickly!
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KarlEd
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I appologize for the quintuple posts. I think I got rid of the duplicates now, though.
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Kayla
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Ignore my e-mail then. [Big Grin]
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Altáriël of Dorthonion
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i agree with your POV. Theres a line between fanatism, hypocrisy and true faith.
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HesterGray
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Having the word "JESUS" spelled out in Christmas lights on a church seems at best, cheesy, and at worst, taking the name in vain. I find it to be in poor taste. I would never go to a church that pointlessly spouts out the name of Jesus. I don't think they meant anything negative by it, like warning people to be good. They probably only see it as a declaration of their beliefs. But I don't think a declaration like that is worshipful.

Maybe that's why I never put the "WWJD" fish that a friend gave me on my car. I think it's still in my trunk. I have no problem being reminded myself throughout the day that I should act according to Jesus' teachings, because that's what I belive. But how am I going to see it if it's on the back of my car? All it does is remind other drivers who might not believe the same things I do, and therefore do not want to be reminded. I have no desire to offend people that way.

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romanylass
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Karl, I think it's a bit over the top. IMO, they should be spending the money they use to light that thing to feed and clothe the poor.

I have so ofthen wanted the smooching Jesus/Darwin fish! Some of those emblams are so funny...think someone would complain if I showed up to work with an "alien fish"?

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Space Opera
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On the interstate there is a large sign on a tree. It reads, "You Have a Expiration Date" and is followed by a "Jesus" sign. I don't mind the sign all that much, but man - fix the grammar!!

On a rural road near here there's a "Church of Christ." One side of its sign says, "Church of Chris" and has for the entire 5 months we've lived here. Mr. Opera has a friend named Chris, and he was thrilled to learn he had an entire church devoted to him.

space opera

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Belle
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quote:
What about the bit in Matthew about not praying loudly like hypocrits do, but praying in secret?

You know, my husband and I both brought this up at our church - when they were telling us how they were making all these plans for Global Prayer week and wanted everyone to come out and pray together. When we were asked why we haven't shown up at any of the prayer meetings, we each, separately answered that we believed prayer should be private and that public displays of prayer came too close, for us, to being a display "Look how holy I am! I'm kneeling down and praying! God proably really likes me because I look so holy!" We don't believe that was God's intention or what prayer should be. Prayer is about glorifying God, not ourselves.

Our explanation was not well received. *shrug*

I pray daily, and I feel like my prayer time is sincere. It's always private, and it's always on my own time, it's not like I announce to my family "Okay, I'm going to go pray now!" Of course, I'm not against people gathering to pray, I think it's a wonderful thing to do, but I just dislike putting a large amount of significance on prayer out loud in front of others, as if it's more effective, or important when done that way.

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lem
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I don't mind big Jesus signs that I think look cheezy. Regardless what their motives are, it does not bother nor offend me. It is part of the decoration of the society I live in.

It reminds of the values of my fellow citizens.

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rivka
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quote:
Originally posted by BannaOj:
Here's a site that has an "empty" fish with legs. (It's got some amusing other ones bordering on the obscene too, and a Gefilte fish for rivka)
http://www.evolvefish.com/fish/emblems.html

AJ, that Gefilte fish is a step up from the ones I've seen -- not only does it have the star of David eye, it even has a kosher symbol! [ROFL]
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Verily the Younger
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I saw a fish once that had the words "& Chips" inside. That's the one I want. [Big Grin]
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Dan_raven
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I find this whole thread has devolved in a rather fishy way.

I do not put anything on my car, because I don't want the responsibility of living up to my advertised morality.

Whenever I see a car load of Christian symbols and a driver in the midst of road rage I laugh.

Whenever I see a car loaded with "Support America" and "Get Tough on Drugs" stickers who's driver is breaking the American law and speeding with enthusiam, I laugh.

Whenever I see an Anti-Christian propaganda sheet on the back of a bumper, while the driver is swearing a blue streak, mostly using the Lord's name in vain, I laugh.

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plaid
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There's a (Christian) woman who has a website where she sells "WTFWJD?" t-shirts and "He died to take away your sins, not your mind" buttons -- link (Caveat: since the website sells WTFWJD t-shirts, it's gonna have some rough language.)

I like her attitude of expressing both faith and irreverence. Myself, if I had faith, I could call myself a Christian -- I try to live up to its ideals -- but I'm too skeptical/agnostic to believe (which I'm sad about).

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